Saturday is National Casmir Pulaski Day

Statue of Casimir Pulaski at Freedom Plaza in Washington, D.C.
Photo by Robert Lyle Bolton used under CC BY 2.0 (changes made)

On Saturday, October 11, 2014, Amsterdam will observe the eighty-fifth anniversary of National Casimir Pulaski Day at City Hall, at 61 Church St. at 12 o’clock noon. The day was designated a national holiday by a joint session of Congress in 1929, on the sesquicentennial of his death October 11, 1779 in Savannah, Ga.

I met with Tom Pikul, the organizer of the ceremony, at his home and I asked him about the significance of Gen. Pulaski’s contribution to the Revolutionary War.

“He created the Pulaski Cavalry Legion…He trained the troops to fight on horseback, and ironically that’s how he got hit-by grapeshot, which is a type of cannon shot with a lot of small projectiles. And in fact he was hit October 9th, 1779 while on horseback, and was in agony for two nights before succumbing on the 11th. One of the other things he was credited with was having informed Gen. Washington of a plot on his life. Gen. Washington was retreating in an engagement with the British, and Pulaski found out the British were planning to ambush Washington and alerted him about the plot. So he is credited with saving Washington’s life. Another thing…Washington, for all his intelligence activities, he had a password [for identifying his troops] and if you said “Pulaski” then the answer was “Poland”-that was the code.”

“My connection to all this is being born and raised in Amsterdam a “Pole” and being attached to that and being happy to see that the culture still exists, through the food and also through the music, such as the Polka show on the Skidmore channel on Saturday mornings, the Rymanowski Brothers from Sienna on Sunday. So, what began as a simple war memorial has evolved into a celebration of Polish culture. I wanted to do this because of my Polish background; I wanted to support that.”

I asked Rob Von Hasseln, the Director of Economic and Community Development and the City Historian about the significance of the ceremony and he said, “There are several different significances here. The first is the significance it has to our historically significant Polish population. This is a matter of great pride. Pulaski was right there from the beginning helping create the birthing of the United States. In the Revolution, if it weren’t for men like him and Lafeyette we might not have won the war. And he is also a symbol of Polish-American commitment, a shared love of liberty, a devotion to their new country. That’s one significance. The other is, we generally like to promote expressions of our ethnic diversity in Amsterdam. It’s one of the reasons people come here, it’s because we are a diverse community, we always have been. We did a program with the Ukrainians, now we are doing one with the Polish community. I only hope in the future that other groups: Italian, Irish, Puerto Rican, will think of doing a ceremony here at City Hall.”

Along with the Amsterdam Polish-American Veterans & the V.F.W.’s John Wsyzmirski Post 701 presence, the American and Polish flags will be raised and a rifle guard will deliver a salute. Both American and Polish anthems will be sung, led by Soprano Genie Marie Callahan.

Jay Towne

Jay Towne is a resident of Amsterdam, has published six books and is the writer and director of a radio drama, Any Good Thing, that currently airs on WOPG.